Two Weeks in the Life: May 26, 2024

Hello, friends and enemies. Last weekend was big cultural activities weekend for me. On Saturday, I had my dance recital! It was a lot of fun and I think I did well in my routines. Tap was a challenging (read: high endurance) but really fun piece. Jazz and ballet were nice too. My teacher Dawn styled us with a full-on 1920s hairstyle to match the flapper dresses we were wearing for tap and did our makeup, so I got the full experience. Most of my classes are for adults but I do have some ballet classes with the young people and I was honored that one of the kids specifically made sure I knew he was coming up soon so I could watch his solo. I assume I’m just kind of a weird old woman who isn’t fully a person to them but I guess I am more real than I think to some of them. That’s not a criticism of teens by the way. They have their own lives and I’m not trying to be a different type of weirdo by being like “how do you do, fellow kids!” Still, it’s nice to be included on a certain level.

The next two weeks, we have a break from classes. I always welcome a rest until I start getting restless halfway through and have to invent activities for myself. I’m a little bummed out because the studio adjusts it’s schedule in the summer so most of the ballet classes are in the middle of the day. That’s great for kids who don’t have school (and for parents who will drive their kids around in the middle of the day) but not for me with my dumb full-time job. To be fair, it will be a million degrees in the studio in the afternoon but still … I wish I didn’t have to work and could just do fun things. We need universal basic income or I need to get a MacArthur grant.

The same day as the recital I went to see the Sacramento Ballet because the thing with buying season tickets in advance is that sometimes many things land on the same day. This was another performance with three short pieces. The first was Balanchine’s Apollo. It was a little weird but it seems typical given the several Balanchine ballets I’ve now seen. There’s a lot of arm entangling and the dancers looping around each other. Why? I don’t know, but if you want to see it for yourself, here’s a recording of the same piece by the New York City Ballet in the 1960s: The next piece, Salve, was about domestic abuse. It was good but it makes me sad when they pretend to abuse the ladies, even for artistic purposes. Is there no other way to make a point about abuse other than having the men do really aggressive choreography at their women partners? The final piece was Ibsen’s House, based on the works of author Henrik Ibsen. I am only passingly familiar with Ibsen (I read A Doll’s House in high school), but I liked this ballet. The set design was very cool. They used a sheer white curtain between panels of black to create a big picture window upstage. I also liked the 19th-century-ish ballet outfits (you can’t really go full 19th century dress and dance). Obviously, all the dancing was good too but I’m not really an expert so I just write about what stands out to me. However, I have been gratified that I am recognizing more of the moves the dancers are doing. I’m clearly learning something in class.

Books and Other Words

I somehow read two novels in a row in which girls are being raised by their powerful single dad on an island, which is kind of weird but okay. The first is H. G. Parry’s The Magician’s Daughter. Biddy (short for Bridget) is the adopted daughter of the magician Rowan. They, along with Rowans’ familiar, a rabbit named Hutchencroft, live on a hidden island off the coast of Ireland. Magic in this world is a finite resource; it slips into our world from cracks in reality. Unfortunately, magicians have been using too much too fast, leaving ordinary people without any magic, which, left unattended, might lead to small miracles in their lives. I enjoyed it a lot. It was the right balance of fantasy and reality, giving us flawed characters to root for like Rowan who plays at being Robin Hood by going out every night to try to liberate magic from people who are hoarding it (eat the rich, baby!). The other book in the “raised alone on an island with her dad” genre, although this was a science fiction and not fantasy, was The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara. The novel weaves together three strands of of time: present-day narration by the protagonist (Rao’s daughter Athena, now imprisoned), the story of the protagonist leaving her father and joining a group of “exes” (people who reject the worldwide government run by the “Board,” in which all individual citizens are “shareholders”), and the third strand in which we learn about King Rao’s childhood and his ascendance to a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-like figure as the CEO of the Coconut computer company. It’s a very good story and a bleak-as-hell take on a could-be future in which no one is a citizen, or even a consumer, but a shareholder living in some kind of technofuedalist megastate where unemployed people can get career training as influencers. I really liked the “ex” communities who were finding ways to live and support each other without shareholder government because it’s important that fiction, even dystopian fiction like this, also gives us some ideas for what life could be like.

In non-fiction, I recently finished The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam by Marshall G. S. Hodgson. This book has been on my shelf since 2009. One of my college professors recommended the series (there are three volumes) as the definitive history of Islam. I had been meaning to read them all and figured I was finally going to do it this year. When I finished the book, I went to log my reading on LibraryThing, only to find I read this book in 2010! I have literally zero memory of this. I thought I had never touched this book! To be fair, I was kind of going through it in 2010 and the book doesn’t even physically look like it had been read. This is exactly why I have to write about everything I read—to cement it in my mind. I was prepared for this book to be kind of stuffy because it was written in the 1960s, but it is actually pretty fresh. In the introduction that takes up a good 20 percent of this 600-page book, the author lays out a bunch of definitions, including that he rejects the term “middle east” because it centers the European perspective (east of what, right?) and rejects “Muslim world” (too broad of a term), instead favoring the geographical descriptor “Nile-to-Oxus region” (the Oxus is a river running through Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan). The history itself is nothing new or mind-blowing, but it is a comprehensive discussion on everything from the period just before the prophet Muhammad through the Abbasid empire. It’s nice to get back in touch with my academic roots (I have a bachelor’s degree in near eastern studies [“nile-to-oxus region studies” is much clunkier to say, if more precise]).

Finally, I read Doppleganger: A Trip into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein. The book starts with Klein wanting to examine why it is that she and former feminist author/current conservative nut Naomi Wolf are often confused for each other. She initially plans to take a sort of literary criticism route, analyzing books and movies about doubles, but her research leads her to asking a more general question: what is it about our society that leads people to go off the deep end and become conspiracy theorists who are out of touch with reality? It was a very interesting book that covered a lot of ground. I especially liked the chapter she wrote about autism, noting that the “vaccines cause autism” conspiracy laid the groundwork for the anti-vaccine sentiment around covid. (I get super mad about the “vaccines cause autism” shit because the premise is ultimately that you prefer a child dead from a preventable disease to a living autistic one.) One theme Klein has in the book is that the right-wing “question everything” idea is not inherently bad, and maybe some of us on the left could have questioned more or at least offered better explanations instead of being dismissive in the face of conflicting information about the pandemic. There’s a tendency now for right and left to exist in opposition—if the right does it, the left must reflexively reject it. However, this attitude is making it easier for people to get caught up in conspiracy thinking and it gives extreme right-wing operators, like Steve Bannon (whose show Wolf now regularly contributes to), an opening to woo people disaffected with reality. This has led to what Klein calls a “diagonal” (cutting across old left-right political divides) political coalition. One line that made me laugh from the book is a chapter heading “The Conspiracy Is … Capitalism.” The thing about conspiracies, as noted by journalist Sara Kendzior, is that sometimes it’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s just a straight up conspiracy. Klein brings this up too. The conspiracy is that wealthy and powerful people have each others’ backs. That’s it. “Power and wealth conspire to protect themselves,” Klein writes. That’s really the main point of the book. Klein’s doppleganger, Wolf, is seeing conspiracies everywhere and profiting off her presence in the right-wing ecosystem. People like Steve Bannon are using conspiracy thinking to distract people from real problems and making money doing it. Just about every conservative celebrity is selling a supplement or some kind of garbage. It’s always about making money.

Meanwhile, on the internet:

  • Google promised a better search experience — now it’s telling us to put glue on our pizza via The Verge. Google is straight-up fucking broken. It’s AI search results are feeding people shitpost answers after using Reddit, shitpost city, to train its language model. The results are funny, to be sure, but they are not informative! Reminder that “artificial intelligence” is not real. This is glorified text prediction. It is not intelligent, it just guesses which words are most likely to appear in a particular order.
  • When Online Content Disappears: 38% of webpages that existed in 2013 are no longer accessible a decade later via Pew Research Center. The internet isn’t as permanent as we like to believe. Make sure you save and archive things that are important to you.
  • Biden, lawmakers blast ICC’s intent to charge Israeli leaders via The Washington Post (gift link). So, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Netanyahu, among others. Biden thinks that sucks, which is in contrast to what most other countries seem to be saying. In the wake of this news, I learned that the U.S. has a law on the books that includes the “Hague invasion clause,” which “authorizes the use of military force to liberate any American or citizen of a U.S.-allied country being held by the court, which is located in The Hague.” Um, yikes. Why would we do that as a country? This became law in 2002 when Bush was heading up the invasion of Iraq. It’s insane that this country is so worried about the possibility of the ICC bringing Americans or our allies up on charges that we need a law for this. I’m shocked, honestly.
  • Campus protesters want Johns Hopkins to divest. This lab is what they mean. via The Baltimore Banner. From the article, “‘It has become clear that Johns Hopkins is a military research institution with a university as a side project,’ a representative of the Hopkins Justice Collective Palestinian Solidarity Encampment said in a statement.” and “The Department of Defense has awarded the university laboratory $12 billion over the past decade, a review of audited financial statements show. That’s nearly twice as much as it’s made in tuition and fees over the same period.” (emphasis mine).

TV and Music

The YouTube algorithm fed me this DJ set by MËSTIZA and I haven’t been the same since. I don’t typically rely on Al Gore’s Rhythm for finding music and I was frankly surprised to find this delight in my recommendations but I am glad I did find it! They’re so good and so cool! I immediately bought their album.

Corporeal Form

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I think I have oral allergy syndrome but the allergy doctor said probably not (and there’s not a concrete test for it anyway). This is a health condition where eating raw produce can give you an allergic reaction. After eating a sandwich with spinach on it a few weeks ago and getting a stomach ache and having my lips swell after eating applewood-smoked bacon, I decided to stop eating any fresh produce and see what would happen. It’s actually made a significant difference for me. I’m burping a lot less and not spending as much time in the bathroom. I haven’t been having stomach aches. The doctors kept telling me it’s not reasonable to assume that I have OAS but also I should experiment on myself and record the results, so I don’t know if they’re going to believe me, but I know I’m feeling a lot better. I mean, emotionally I feel kind of shitty that this has been an issue for a long time and I just figured it out and that means I kind of can’t eat any kind of salad or fresh vegetables again but, I guess that’s what I’m dealing with. It makes a lot of sense to me because I always have to really force myself to try to eat fruit—some of it tastes okay it’s just hard to get myself to eat it—and I can never manage to eat much. I think I was subconsciously trying to protect myself from being sick. I am going to keep experimenting a little but I do feel very confident that this is at least part of my problems.

The other thing I am fairly convinced I have is POTS, which stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Basically the blood pressure cannot keep up with the rest of the body when you move around, causing your heart rate to spike when you go from sitting to standing causing dizziness and fatigue, and it’s especially problematic when it’s hot outside. I measured my pulse and found it does jump significantly when I have been sitting for a while and stand up (like, 30 bpm, consistent with the criteria for POTS). I asked my doctor to refer me for a test but, after a cursory exam, she said no because my heart rate didn’t jump that much between lying down and standing when they measured in the office. She did not accept my explanation that it takes longer to get to a resting heart rate with POTS and I’d been walking around to get to the office. She instead said I have vertigo, but the way I’m feeling dizzy is not at all what vertigo is supposed to be, which is the spinning all the way around feeling. I’m getting like a head rushing feeling. For the fatty liver study I’m doing, they did an echocardiogram and my resting heart rate was in the 50 bpm range so I still think I’m right. I’m okay with being wrong but, if I am wrong, I need the doctor to explain why I’m getting all these symptoms, plus things like blood pooling in my fingers when I walk around. POTS could also be contributing to my gut issues, so I feel like this is a unifying theory of what’s wrong with me. But I’m not a doctor so I guess what do I know.

Finally, and this may be TMI, I feel it noteworthy to record the fact that I actually had a hot flash for, I think, the first time last week. We were watching the ballet and I just started fucking sweating and feeling really hot from the inside out, which is how I always see hot flashes described. Yay? In any case, menopause seems to be approaching. We have fun here.

Kitchen Witchery

It’s always soup season in my house. I recently made the somewhat Tarascan bean soup from Rancho Gordo and we liked it a lot. Kirk said I should make it again, so we got his seal of approval. He also drew a little smiley face on his soup after I said that the soup was a little boring to take a photo of. What a guy. I made Chicomecoatl corn soup from the Decolonize Your Diet cookbook. I had made this soup before and we liked it but, several years ago, I loaned this cookbook to someone and then never saw them again! I finally bought a new copy, largely for this soup recipe but it is a good cookbook overall. Lastly, I baked a ricotta loaf (recipe from The Bread Bible). I ended up with an excess of ricotta because the grocery store was out of the regular-size container I ordered and substituted a huge one. Naturally, I made bread with it. I was thinking about using it in a cake recipe today (there’s a chocolate ricotta cake in Snacking Bakes) but, alas, I am out of eggs.

Cat Therapy

Finally, here are some cat photos for your nerves. After a full week of waking us up at 6:15 every morning, Fritz finally chilled out in the last two days. I’m relieved because I can’t live like that.